Thursday, July 24, 2008

(C)old war strategies switch parties

With war waging in a far-away land, one political party opts to escalate the conflict with higher troop numbers and extend the time commitment to fight. The opposing political party leader decides a better tactic is meeting with the enemy and withdrawing soldiers from the conflict.

John McCain and Barack Obama? No. The above is a simplified version of the Kennedy/Johnson and Nixon administrations during the Vietnam War.

During Vietnam, the Democratic leadership of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson escalated soldiers – which carried the euphemistic title of “military advisers” – from the Eisenhower-era number of less than 1,000 to more than 500,000 by the time Johnson left office in 1969.

Republican President Richard Nixon halved the fighting force by the end of his second year in office and had his foreign policy expert Henry Kissinger begin secret peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese.

Fast-forward to 2008, and it’s the Republican McCain who had made statements about staying in Iraq “100 years” if necessary and the Democrat Obama who wants begin troop withdrawals and meet with foreign governments that pose a threat to U.S. interests.

The problem in affixing general labels to elected officials is that the “party line” doesn’t always fit.

By definition – if not by his actions as a congressman and vice president – Nixon should have been a staunch anti-communist for life. Instead, one can connect the dots on America’s foreign policy achievements back to Nixon, whose mastery of world politics thawed relations and opened doors from China to the Soviet Union to the Middle East.

Until the 1930s, black voters traditionally voted Republican, thanks in large part to President Lincoln’s push to abolish slavery. When Democratic administrations introduced the New Deal and subsequent Civil Rights legislation, blacks switched parties.

That doesn’t mean Democrats always work for the betterment of blacks. “American Pharaoh,” a book by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor about late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, cites references to official and unofficial policies under the city’s Democratic mayors that gave Chicago the most segregated public housing projects in the nation.

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